India and Russia Strengthening Ties On The Past
The former superpower USSR may have been a thing of the past but the diplomatic relation it established with India in 1947 continues to be an incredible saga of cooperation and friendship. There are very few countries where the people to people emotional bonding grew spontaneously and strengthened the diplomatic ties between the two countries. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, 15 independent states came into being and India has good bilateral relations with all of them. However, Russian Federation carries on the Soviet legacy.
Ideological and cultural interaction between India and Soviet Union is a fact of recent history. The influence of the Socialist Revolution on Indian political thinkers of the early 20th century is well known. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit of USSR in 1927 to participate in the 10th anniversary of the October Revolution was significant in charting the future bilateral relations between the two countries. Ever since the establishment of Missions for formal diplomatic relations on 13th April 1947, the bilateral relations covering wide ranging activities grew steadily. Needless to say that India benefited immensely with the help and support of a super power friend. Indo-Soviet collaboration reached a new high during Mrs. Indira Gandhi as the Prime Minister and it was poised to grow stronger. But two unfortunate events retarded this growth—untimely death of Mrs. Gandhi in 1984 and collapse of USSR in 1991.
Disintegration of the Soviet Union was indeed an unexpected and scaring event for the present generation. More so for a country like India which got a powerful, resourceful and reliable friend in USSR for over five decades.
The present volume is a collection of articles on subjects ranging from strategic partnership to cryogenic deal to language and literature by 42 scholars who gathered in the University of Mumbai in 2007 to commemorate 60 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries.
From the tumultuous phase of post-Soviet aftermath, Indo-Russian relations have come a long way. In fact, the very important statements made by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during the latest visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and signing of civil nuclear agreement without attaching conditions only indicate to the core strength of the relationship between the two countries. Indian Prime Minister is reported to have said in the Kremlin, “Today we have signed an agreement which broadens the reach of our co-operation beyond the supply of nuclear reactors to areas of research and development and a whole range of areas of nuclear energy.”
The bilateral relations suffered for obvious reasons in a phase of transition. We must not forget that India has a vital interest in the Russian Federation, the successor state, and vice versa. This fact could not have been stated better than by the Russian President Vladimir Putin himself. In his address to Indian Parliament on 4th October, 2000 President Putin said: “I am sincerely touched by the friendliness, sincerity and cordiality that we experience here on Indian soil. This is proof that the Russian-Indian relations are free of any political fluctuation. They are stable, firm and they are not altered by time. The history of relations between our countries shows what can be achieved if goodwill and mutual confidence are the cornerstones of the common cause. Our people have immense positive experience of friendship.”
Regular bilateral contacts at the highest level have become a telling feature of mutual ties since the year 2000. Commonalities of approach to a rapidly changing international scenario, particularly in the neighborhood of India and Russia, sweeping economic reforms undertaken in recent years in both countries and such common malaise as terrorism, narcotic trafficking, illegal arms smuggling and money laundering have brought India and Russia on a common platform of partnership. Both countries look up to the future with a millennial agenda laden with crimson hopes.
The book also deals with the evolution of Indo-Russian ties. One contributor states, the real thaw had begun with the death of Stalin. For the post-Stalin Soviet Union, it was the period of a quest of allies in all parts of the globe who would follow the socialist ideology, facilitate Soviet overtures, behave sympathetically to the cause of national liberation movement, oppose block politics and endeavour to initiate social policies that would ensure equitable justice to all. Nehru’s India fitted the Soviet bill like none else. The removal of the iron curtain by Nikita Khrushchev as indeed opened up the vista to the outer world. For the Soviet Union it was a time for making an adventurous foray into world politics. For India it was a tumultuous time of situating itself in a world that was getting increasingly bipolarized. Khrushchev understood the strategic importance of India like none other. He chose India for his maiden visit in December,1955 along with Prime Minister Nikolai Bulganin and Nehru extended a red carpet welcome. That year witnessed the culmination of two-year long negotiations over Bhilai steel plant and the visit facilitated signing of an agreement in this regard. The Khrushchev-Bulganin visit officially inaugurated a period of Indo-Soviet bonhomie. For a quarter century since that year to late 1970s, 49.8 percent of all Soviet loans to India went to financing the metallurgy sector, while 17.8 percent aid went to oil refining and production. The intent behind this pattern of help was obviously to make India as strong as steel and self- sufficient. What had begun as a modest annual trade turnover of just Rupees two crores in 1953 ushered in an era of economic bilateralism that rose to a stellar height at Rs. 8000 crores in 1991.
During the 1962 war with China, the Soviets were right on to a puzzle galore of whether to help ‘brother China or friend India’ although the weapons flowed as per agreements signed. The delicate question that remained unanswered at that point of time was the Soviet position with regard to aggressor China vis-à-vis Nehru’s Panchasheel. The élan vital of the great Indian leader was evaporating with creeping thoughts about the validity of peaceful coexistence in the hostile surroundings of sanguine wars. As India outlived that traumatic epoch, the Soviets decided to support India in future exigencies of war that followed in 1965 with Pakistan. This was why came the Tashkent mediation, a determined and bold endeavour to iron out intricate issues of Indo-Pak ties. The economic, technological, scientific, cultural and other aid that flowed after 1965, when Indira Gandhi ruled India, were a tertium quid. The Soviets did everything to help Nehru’s daughter rule India effectively.
Come 1971, all Soviet eulogy for Indira Gandhi was put to test, particularly on the eve of a brewing crisis in the erstwhile East Pakistan. Pakistan was on the throes of a civil war from which it had no escape. The premonition of an Indo-Pak war worried the Soviet leadership. Soon the Soviet realized that a polarized political crisis was brewing in the subcontinent and by July,1971 it was clear that South Asia was in ferment and clouds of war were hovering over India and Pakistan. The seventies thus began with apprehensions of a war and on 9 August, 1971, when millions of refugees were pouring into India from East Pakistan, Brezhnev extended his helping hand of friendship to sign with India a Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation, that formalized their common poition on South Asia. The rest is history.
The strategic partnership has rejuvenated a battered relationship by encouraging public-private participation in joint ventures. If Indo-Russian relations of yesteryears were state to state affairs, they are no longer so. Private participation in a wide range of activities is the hallmark of the new epoch. The strategic partnership has put behind years of worries over procuring spurious defence spares from a third source. It has elevated political relations to a higher plateau than ever before, enhanced the possibilities of tapping the huge potentials that do exist in both countries. Gone is the decade between 1990-2000, when the Russian economy, saturated by pro-western infatuation, grew annually at minus 4.8 percent, while the Indian economy maintained a sustained growth rate of 6 percent.
Back to rails of 6 percent annual growth, Russia has rectified past mistakes and looks forward to having friends with whom its economic interaction will be fruitful. However, there are two major asymmetries; 86 percent of the Russian GDP comes from sale of oil, gas and metals that show signs of economic fragility. Secondly, up to 2006 all Russian exports to India were being paid in hard currency, while Indian exports to Russia were largely being adjusted against the debt resettlement account. Growing engagement in various economic activities may fundamentally alter equations in relations in the context of strategic partnership simply because partnership must not be based on unequal terms.
With optimism abound in bilateral relations, time is ripe now for an astute analysis of the ongoing processes in the emerging ties between India and Russia with a view to assessing their strategic importance for the future.
The book eminently succeeds in highlighting the strength of Indo-Russian diplomatic ties and the future possibilities. Indeed the editors have done a commendable job.
(Academic Excellence, 42, Ekta Apartments, Geeta Colony, Delhi-110031)
By BK Dash